Book Reviews

Review: The Highlander’s Substitute Wife

If you say Highlander romance, I say yes please! This is an exciting new series starter that is sure to thrill those who like their romance heavy on the plot…

Book: The Highlander’s Substitute Wife by Terri Brisbin

Publication date: 20th January 2022

Ownership: E-ARC sent free of charge by author. All opinions my own.

Content warnings: violence and injury, death of background characters; heroine is physically disabled and has a lot of internalised ableism as well as ableism from villainous characters (some negative language but no actual slurs); emotional and physical abuse from family members; mentions of death in childbirth; concussion/coma.

She’s the best wife…
…he never wanted!

Ross MacMillan lifts his bride’s veil…and discovers it’s not the woman he’d agreed to marry but her beautiful younger sister, Ilysa MacDonnell! The new MacMillan chieftain must accept Ilysa as his wife, for retaining his clan’s lands depends on her father’s support. But why is she there? Are her aims to help him or her father? Drawing out Ilysa’s secrets will kindle an alliance more powerful—and passionate!—than Ross ever imagined…

The Highlander’s Substitute Wife kicks off a new collaborative trilogy, Highland Alliances, which will include stories from Terri Brisbin, Jenni Fletcher, and Madeline Martin, all of whom I’ve enjoyed books from before. This first book is a marriage of convenience gone wrong, where Ross MacMillan discovers he’s been tricked into marrying the wrong sister; Ilysa herself is not in on the trick, and was fully expecting to live out her life in the nunnery her awful family had sent her to in order to hide her disability. But that’s not all – there’s a lot going on, as this deftly juggles the overarching plot of the series as well as being a satisfying standalone that balances spies and clan warfare with its central romance.

The connection between Ross and Ilysa is sweet, and I enjoyed how gentle and compassionate he was, and how quickly he understood that Ilysa needed time to adjust to her new life; she’s traumatised by years of emotional and physical abuse, and has a lot of self-loathing. I thought that Ilysa’s recovery alone could have sustained the book, but unfortunately it was dropped as a plot point quite quickly; she’s instantly accepting of Ross both emotionally and physically, and seems quite happy to take him at his word that he won’t hit her. This rang a little false to me, as I just couldn’t buy that she would be quite so comfortable around him so quickly. However, putting that aside, it is wonderful to see her open up and gain a sense of her own self-worth as she takes on responsibility around the clan – she’s a practical, capable woman and she won’t let anything stop her. Ilysa’s awakening to her own capability was by far my favourite part of the plot!

As with my previous reads by Terri (see my review of Tempted By Her Viking Enemy), this is more action-packed than the typical historical romance I read. There’s a great connection between Ross and Ilysa, but it’s not the sole focus of the book; the last third or so throws a lot of action and obstacles at them that maybe feel more like historical fiction than historical romance. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it did sometimes feel like the two of them spent pages and pages without actually interacting! At times, I found the progression of events quite frustrating – the book covers a few months, but around the midpoint of the story there start to be quite a lot of paragraphs that waved away interesting developments as literally ‘time passed and x and y happened’, without showing these things in any detail. I would have loved for these sections to have been expanded on to give a slightly more detailed progression, especially when the events that were glossed over were things that pertained to Ilysa’s emotional arc. That being said, I defy anyone not to be cheering for these two at the end of the book – there’s a lot to fit into their story, and they’ve been through so much!

There are some intriguing threads hinting at what’s going on in the series as a whole, and I’m definitely hyped for the rest of the trilogy, which will follow Ross’s siblings. If you’re on the hunt for historical romance with plenty of plot to sink your teeth into, this book is going to be right up your street. Four out of five cats!

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